October 20, 2003 | Ask Gael
I’m a West Sider, and I hate to roam.
Dazzled by the gold rush of prime chefs to the neighborhood, I’d simply forgotten Calle Ocho. So, what a surprise to catch a remarkable renaissance, since consulting chef Douglas Rodriguez began stirring the pots. Expect a couple of pure Rodriguez jolts—like the panko-crusted oysters on a fufu-and-horseradish spinach bed and Cuban pork with sour-orange mojo. Most everything else we tasted was remarkably clean, elegant, yet dancing with flavor. Who knew the over-the-top creator of Patria and Ola had this vein of delicate finesse lurking inside? All the ingredients of a paella (even the rice, in the form of a crispy cake) appear in his elegant paella seviche. And there are bacon-wrapped dates nested in the royal palm salad. Luscious yuca fries straddle the Cuban-style sirloin alongside a rich tomato-manchego salad. Two could happily make a dinner of the grilled beef, shrimp enchilada, and chicken anticucho on its elevated platter with sauces and a ration of warm tortillas to stuff. No need to weep if you can’t get into Tom Valenti’s latest.
446 Columbus Avenue, near 81st Street 212 873 5025